Wondering what there is to do in Sulmona? Look no further! Here are our recommendations for the top 10 Things to Do in Sulmona.
1. Watch the Giostra Cavallaresca
If you visit during the summer, the chances are you’ll get caught up in the celebrations surrounding the Giostra Cavallaresca, a medieval jousting competition. Preparations begin in June, when the various areas of the town start decorating their streets with flags, bunting and banners. Festivities really ramp up in July, when parties are held in the different quarters, all competing to be the talk of the town. Food, alcohol, dancing – one giant street party! There’s always something happening and the quarters compete to attract the most visitors. Inhabitants walk around in bright t-shirts and neck ties proudly sporting their colours. Drummers entertain the crowds who are happily taking in the party atmosphere. There are several processions before the weekend of the Giostra, where rivalries heat up. The main event happens on the last weekend of July, followed a week later by the Giostra Cavallaresca of Europe. To find out more about the Giostra, visit Welcome to Sulmona.
2. See the Good Friday Procession
I still remember the first time I witnessed the Good Friday Procession. I’d been in Italy for around 3 months and was starting to acclimatise to my new surroundings. One evening, sat in my kitchen eating dinner after a long day at work, I suddenly heard the most spine-tingling music. It was so faint that I wasn’t sure if perhaps I was going crazy. I turned off the TV and sat still, straining my ears to hear where it was coming from. It was so eerie that I decided to venture out onto my balcony to see what was happening. There, on the road near my house, was a procession of people swaying back and for carrying lamps and statues. I was mesmerised. One year later, I got to witness the procession from my very own balcony. Even for the non-religious, it is a very moving experience. If you’re in Sulmona for Easter weekend, be sure to get a spot outside the SS. Trinita, the small church a few doors down from the main SS. Annunziata on Corso Ovidio.
3. Watch the Running Madonna
The Madonna che Scappa in Piazza, or Running Madonna, is the climax of the Easter celebrations. On Easter Sunday, crowds flood into Piazza Garibaldi, the main square in Sulmona, eagerly waiting for the celebration to start. The event is really quite remarkable, culminating in a statue of the Madonna being carried on the shoulders of men as they run as fast as they can through the square to reunite Mary with her resurrected son, Jesus. So many superstitions surround the event – if Mary’s black dress doesn’t come off cleanly, if the doves don’t all fly away, if the men trip and drop the statue it will be a bad year for Sulmona. It all happens so fast that you could miss it if you’re not careful. Be sure to get to Piazza Garibaldi early to get a good spot. If you don’t want to battle the crowds or risk an umbrella spoiling your view, the terrace at B&B Sei Stelle is the best place to watch it from. Wondering what all the fuss is about? Watch a video here
4. Go to a Nearby Sagra
Sagre and Feste happen all year round so the chances are there’s something going on when you’re visiting. There is a sagra for pretty much anything and everything. I’m sure most of them are just an excuse to party. From the obvious pizza and garlic festivals to the more obscure polenta celebrations and even a hibernation festival. Many of these sagre are accompanied by food, drinks and music. However, you may need a car to get to some of them as they are in nearby towns rather than in Sulmona itself. There is a complete list of annual events on the Welcome to Sulmona website so check it out to see what’s happening!
5. Go to the Saturday Market
Next on our list of Things to do in Sulmona is a trip to the Saturday market. This is where you can really soak up Italian culture and life, as well as being an opportunity to practise your Italian language skills with the friendly local vendors. Take a walk among the stalls and feast your eyes on fresh fruit, fish, and local cheeses. Sit down at a nearby cafe and spend a lazy Saturday morning watching life unfold around you. The market is not just for shopping, it’s also for catching up with old friends and forgetting about anything you have to do.
6. Take Part in a Traditional Cooking Experience
Not sure what to make with all those fresh ingredients you bought at the market? Try out one of the popular cooking experiences organised by Welcome to Sulmona. It’s a fun way to spend some time and learn how to make traditional local dishes right here in Sulmona. This family-friendly experience costs €69 for adults and €39 for children (based on a group of 4). The best part is you get to eat what you make afterwards! Get in touch with the WTS team for dates or book an experience via their website.
7. Watch the COSI Summer Opera Festival
Every year, 100 or so young opera singers and musicians descend upon Sulmona and fill the streets with their beautiful arias. Take a walk in the Villa Communale and you will hear them practising. Run by the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy, the Summer Opera Festival lasts for a month, with performances starting shortly after the participants arrive in mid-June. Their main opera performances take place in mid-July with four operas a night, two in the cortille of SS. Annunziata on Corso Ovidio and two in the Cortile San Francesco in the town hall. Many students have since gone on to become world famous performers, such as Lucia Cesaroni, an Italian-Canadian soprano who performed in 2017’s Spoleto Festival.
8. Go Hiking
Sulmona is surrounded by mountains so if you’re looking for an active holiday, be sure to pack your hiking boots. With several different routes in and around Sulmona, you’ll find something for every level. If you don’t have a lot of time, one of our favourite routes is Colle Mitra, which is situated just outside Sulmona near the cemetery. A relatively easy climb, it should take just a few hours. Be sure to stop and sit at the top to take in the breathtaking views over Sulmona. Read more about Colle Mitra on our post from summer 2016.
9. Visit San Panfilo Cathedral
Ninth in our list of Things to do in Sulmona is a visit to the cathedral of San Panfilo, the patron saint of Sulmona. The cathedral stands at the end of the Villa Communale. Built in 1075 on what is believed to have been the remains of a Roman temple, the cathedral is an important part of Sulmona’s history. Born in Pacile near Colle Mitra, Panfilo’s Pagan father expelled him from the family for embracing Christianity. Damaged by an earthquake in 1706, much of the church has been rebuilt in the Baroque style. Be sure to visit the crypt and walk between the fourteen columns.
10. Get an Ice Cream
We’ve saved the best until last in our list of 10 Things to Do in Sulmona. No summer visit is complete without a taste of world-famous Italian gelato. My favourite gelateria is La Rotonda, which can be found opposite the aqueduct that surrounds Piazza Garibaldi. Expect long queues after lunchtime and in the evening but it’s worth the wait. With flavours that change on a daily basis, you’ll be spoilt for choice here. Once you have your ice cream, take a seat on the steps with the rest of the Italians and simply watch the town pass you by. One of my favourite times to visit is early evening, before dinner, as the day slowly slips into night.
And so we come to the end of our list of Things to Do in Sulmona. Have any other suggestions to add? Let us know in the comments!